FBI being asked to clear U.S. residency applicants

Another wrinkle has developed that may delay even further the lengthy processes for U.S. expats to obtain residency in Costa Rica.

At least in some cases, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería demands a criminal history report generated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. This became known to Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica when a client failed to obtain an expected approval of pensionado status. A processor at the immigration office said FBI clearance is required, Zavaleta said in an email.

The pensionado applicant already provided a police clearance letter from the State of Florida, but that was not good enough for the immigration agency. Until now, U.S. residency applicants provided a police clearance letter from their municipality, county or state.

Of course, under the U.S. federal system that left a big gap in information. An individual could provide a clean police report from one city while having had convictions for serious crimes in another.

Zavaleta said he does not object to the change, but he worries about how the new requirement will be put into practice.

The FBI maintains its criminal justice division in West Virginia. There is an established system for getting a federal criminal history or rap sheet. The FBI requires a standard fingerprint form FD-258.  The details are set out on the FBI Web site. The fee is $18 payable by credit card.

The FBI says that processing may take five to six weeks. Documents submitted to immigration here have a short life span after which the agency rejects them. So waiting for the FBI report might cause problems with the application.

Zavaleta said he has that base covered.

He said he thinks his U.S. clients will have a two- to three-week delay and that he may use private companies that specialize in getting these reports from the FBI.

“My concern is for those clients who are already in Costa Rica, some of which we have not yet filed their applications pending fingerprinting or the arrival of other key documents,” he said.

But he wonders about what expat applicants already in Costa Rica could do to get their fingerprint cards to be submitted to the FBI and what additional procedures would be required.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman had no additional information immediately.

For years applicants for the various forms of residency had their fingerprints taken at the security ministry in Barrio Córdoba in south San José. The prints are sent to the International Police Agency for a criminal history check. That still is done.

The immigration agency has made no formal announcement of the change in procedure. And the only real evidence is the official resolution issued Monday involving the case of the U.S. pensionado applicant.

The resolution also requires that the FBI report be provided in 10 working days along with a Spanish translation.

The new procedure is likely to involve more than just applicants for pensionado, rentistaand inversionista residency, Requirements for missionary, volunteer and certain work visas also require fingerprinting and police reports.

Costa Rica, like many countries, has a central data base where criminal records of citizen are kept. Employers and other s routinely asked for such a document here. It is called an hoja de delincuencia and is available at the judicial archives and online.

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